Blog Archives

Virtual tours of London’s best buildings: How to explore during the Covid-19 lockdown

Visit some of London’s most iconic buildings without leaving your sofa.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

Head to Somerset House… virtually

Most Londoners would agree they often take the city for granted normally, let alone now. As our ongoing lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic continues, many of us are looking lustfully over #throwback photos on social media wondering when we’ll be able to explore the capital again. Or perhaps, you’re a would-be tourist whose trip to London was postponed or cancelled.

During the current Coronavirus crisis, I’ve put a lot of my usual events and ‘what’s on’ content on hiatus and have instead been focusing on London history and architecture. While researching the background of some of the capital’s most iconic buildings, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find how many of their websites provide virtual tours.

So if you’re feeling bored and missing walking around the capital, why not enjoy a virtual stroll around some of these iconic London sights.

Ten virtual tours of London buildings

  • Foreign & Commonwealth Office

Explore the striking Victorian government offices of Whitehall, which were built in the 1860s. Gaze at George Gilbert Scott’s designs, such as the Grand Staircase, the Locarno Suite and Durbar Court. Although usually off-limits to the public, you can usually get a peek during Open House London in September.

– For a virtual tour, visit the FCO website.

  • Middle Temple Hall

The public rarely gets to step inside the 16th century hall in the Temple legal district. This historic building has an impressive hammerbeam roof and is said to have hosted the first ever performance of William Shakespeare‘s Twelfth Night in front of Queen Elizabeth I.

– For a virtual tour, visit the Middle Temple Venue website. Read about the history of Middle Temple Hall.

  • Sky Garden

The ‘Walkie Talkie’ is the nickname for the City of London skyscraper 20 Fenchurch Street. Its top floors are home to a garden, bar, restaurants and viewing platform, give wonderful views of the capital.

– For a virtual tour, visit the Sky Garden 360 website. Read a review of a visit to the Sky Garden.

  • Somerset House

The multi-space arts and entertainment venue has a contrasting mix of old and new architectural features inside the 18th century riverside building.

– For a virtual tour, visit the Somerset House website. Read about the history of Somerset House. Read the rest of this entry

Explore the life and art of Vincent Van Gogh in a special, interactive experience

Installation view of Meet Vincent van Gogh. Image courtesy of Meet Vincent van Gogh

Installation view of Meet Vincent van Gogh.
(Image courtesy of Meet Vincent van Gogh)

Coming to London this winter and spring is a special, immersive art experience. The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam’s hit attraction Meet Vincent van Gogh Experience will run in the capital for nearly four months. Launching on the South Bank on 7 February 2020, the interactive and multi-sensory experience will allow art lovers to step into the legendary Dutch painter’s world. It recreates van Gogh’s life through his own words thanks to the Van Gogh Museum’s research and the artist’s personal correspondence.

The experience will open on the South Bank in the borough of Lambeth – the same borough where van Gogh resided for about a year in 1873-74 in Hackford Road, Brixton. It aims to bring van Gogh’s original works to audiences around the world who cannot see them in the Van Gogh Museum. Visitors will be treated to a fully-automated, audio-guide experience, where they can enjoy stunning projections and interactive installations. People can stand on Vincent’s doorstep or sit on his bed in the state-of-the-art set work. Follow his life story from his childhood in the Netherlands to his Paris studios; from the inspiring Arles countryside to the St. Rémy asylum, and finally, the sombre wheat field where he shot himself in July 1890, before dying of his injuries two days later.

The popular experience comes to the UK following 2019 tour stops in South Korea and Spain, where it attracted 400,000 visitors. Along with London, the Meet Vincent van Gogh Experience will also stop in Lisbon, Portugal this year.

  • Meet Vincent van Gogh Experience runs from 7 February – 21 May 2020. At 99 Upper Ground, South Bank, SE1 9PP. Nearest stations: Waterloo, Waterloo East or Embankment. Open Sun-Wed 10am-6pm, Thu-Sat 10am-10pm. Tickets: Standard box office Mon-Fri £19, Sat-Sun £21. Advance online – Mon-Fri £18, Sat-Sun £20. Concessions available for students, children and the elderly. For tickets and more information, visit MeetVincent.com.

Installation view of Meet Vincent van Gogh.
(Image courtesy of Meet Vincent van Gogh)

For a guide to what’s on in London in March, click here.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Jeff Wayne’s The War of the Worlds – The Immersive Experience review

A Martian watches over the steam-punk pub at Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds Experience

I’m a fan of immersive theatre and virtual reality experiences and had previously visited DotDotLondon’s first outing Somnai in spring 2018. When I heard they had created an immersive experience of Jeff Wayne’s musical adaptation of The War of the Worlds, I was very intrigued. I vaguely knew the rough plotline of the original H.G. Wells’ novel from the 1890s which inspired Wayne’s album. I went along recently with a group of friends. While waiting for our time slot, we took a seat under a Martian in the steam-punk themed pub and restaurant, with sensational newspaper headlines and sinister changing paintings around us giving a hint of what’s to come.

At the beginning of our experience, we were taken to a ravaged room and were introduced to the characters of George Herbert and his fiancée Carrie projected as holograms. After describing the scene of the Martian invasion of 1898, we heard the familiar beats of Wayne’s theme song as our journey began. We were taken to a Victorian observatory and introduced to Ogilvy, the astronomer. Looking through the vintage telescopes, we spy a mysterious green light coming towards the Earth. It isn’t long before ‘something’ has crash-landed in Woking and Ogilvy appears to be burned alive in front of us by a ray beam – an effective, but quite horrifying bit of special effects. The scene really gets your heart racing and sets you up ready to flee.

Sensational headlines

The experience lasts 110 minutes and features a mix of virtual reality, holograms, pyrotechnics and immersive theatre. You’ll need to be active and be prepared to hide under a table, crawl through a tunnel and slide your way through tight spaces. You get to wear a virtual reality camera on about four occasions, including a haphazard boat trip escaping the Martians (complete with real water splashes!) and a balloon ride. Occasionally, the VR headset could be a bit glitchy, but it certainly transported you to another space. One VR scene in a confessional booth was a little scary, so much so I kept bending down and hiding, prompting an unseen staff member to encourage me to stand up! Seeing some of the men in my group transformed into Victorian women in the VR set was particularly humorous. Along the way, you have many encounters with castmembers in character, with one giving me some money to bribe a boatman, which was a successful transaction! One of the most memorable moments was crouching under a table in a shaking room in the pitch black, anticipating some awful creature about to come into the room. Halfway through your journey you get to stop off in the Red Weed Bar for a cocktail. Read the rest of this entry

FriendsFestive review: Recreate your favourite Friends moments on the show’s sets

Sit on the iconic orange sofa in Central Perk at FriendsFestive

You may have noticed in the media in recent months that 2019 marks the 25th anniversary of the TV show Friends. Although I was an original fan back in the 1990s, a whole new younger audience have come to love the show thanks to Netflix and Comedy Central. This Christmas season, the sell-out FriendsFest is back in London with a festive twist. Hosted by ComedyCentral UK, FriendsFestive gives fans of the show a chance to hang out on the sets, see authentic props and costumers from the show, and pose for photos and videos as you recreate memorable scenes.

Ring a bell at Phoebe’s festive stand

I had previously visited the first FriendsFest back in 2015 and was fortunate enough to meet actor James Michael Tyler, who played Gunther. The original FriendsFest was a much smaller affair with only one proper set and I had seen through friends’ social media photos that subsequent Friendsfests had got bigger and better. FriendsFestive differs from the others because it offers a twist on the theme with many references from Thanksgiving and Christmas episodes, as well as a lot more interactive spaces and photo opportunities.

When booking, you are given a timeslot for a set tour, before being given free time at the end to explore the photo areas, shop, and food and drink spaces. As we waited for our tour to begin, we were given time in a sort of Friends mini museum, full of authentic costumes and props from the show. You’ll recognise Rachel’s horrific pink bridesmaid dress for Barry and Mindy’s wedding; Monica’s red prom dress; the turkey ‘headpiece’; Ross’s letter comparing Rachel and Julie; Chandler’s gold ‘bracelet buddy’ from Joey; Ursula’s porn video; amongst many others.

Monica and Rachel’s apartment is very festive

The guided tour started in Monica and Rachel’s apartment living-kitchen area, which had been suitably decked out for Christmas. The kitchen had familiar items fans from the show would recognise such as Phoebe’s skull full of liquorice, Rachel’s disastrous trifle-mince pie hybrid and a cardboard box full of Monica’s broken posh plates. Our group were given opportunity to explore the set and pose for photographs, before clearing the room so an empty photo could be taken. Helpfully, this was factored in for every room so you could get some decent shots without random people ruining your shot. Next, we progressed to the hallway, complete with candy basket hanging on Monica’s door. Moving on to Chandler and Joey’s apartment, it had cute touches like Hugsie the penguin on the sofa, and the drum kit Phoebe bought Joey to try and force Rachel to move out. Finally, it was the Central Perk set, with the iconic orange sofa, the neon service sign and Phoebe’s guitar on stage. Read the rest of this entry

Scripts for Supper presents Wind in the Willows: An immersive culinary theatrical experience

Feast on four courses as you join Toad, Badger and co.

Wind In The Willows © Scripts for Supper

Scripts for Supper presents The Wind In The Willows

Coming to London’s city farms this summer is a unique theatrical dining experience. Scripts for Supper launches its new production, The Wind In Willows, on 17 May 2019. Expect a fun and fabulous mix of great food, music, theatre, song and even dance.

Scripts for Supper comes from MasterChef 2016 semi-finalist Annie McKenzie with food by fellow MasterChef alum and finalist, chef and food writer Juanita Hennessey. The concept is classic stories brought to life with theatre and a bespoke menu. The actors double up as waiters so you are immersed into the Edwardian England inhabited by Toad, Badger, Mole and Ratty.

Wind In The Willows © Scripts for Supper

Feast on four courses inspired by the classic tale

Diners are invited on a culinary, immersive theatrical journey in the new production of The Wind In The Willows, inspired by Kenneth Grahame’s classic tale. Launching at Stepney City Farm on 17 May 2019, it will also tour Spitalfields City Farm and Mudchute City Farm.

Scripts for Supper launched in 2017 following MA Acting graduate Annie’s appearance in MasterChef. Previous productions include Twelfth Night and The Lion; The Witch and The Wardrobe. Past experiences have won over critics, being hailed as “truly magical” and “phenomenal”. Scripts for Supper cater for children and vegetarians, as well as carnivores.

  • Scripts for Supper presents The Wind In The Willows. 2019 dates: 17 – 19 May : Stepney City Farm; 24-26, 31 May and 1-2 June : Spitalfields City Farm; 29-30 June : Mudchute City Farm. Tickets: Adults £45 (inc welcome cocktails, canapes and a 4 course meal), Children £30. Times vary (matinee and evening sittings). For more information and booking, visit the Scripts for Supper website.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Immersive dining experience Dinner Time Story returns with Banquet of Hoshena

Dinner Time Story

Dinner Time Story presents the Banquet of Hoshena

Launching in London this month is an immersive feast from Dinner Time Story. The team behind the hit Le Petit Chef production is returning to the capital with their new foodie experience, the Banquet Of Hoshina.

Guests will be treated to a projector-led dining concept when it launches this spring at Westfield London, before moving to Hoxton later this summer. Diners will be transported to an imaginary land where they will be joined by kings, queens, fairies and volcanoes at the table.

Dinner Time Story will take guests on a two-hour gourmet journey using 3D visual technology, image mapping and experiential props. The story will be told using flavours, ingredients, sights, sounds and tastes. Diners will feast on five courses, accompanied by wine and cocktail pairings. Each course will link to the storyline with each dish representing an emotion.

  • Dinner Time Story presents Banquet of Hoshena. From 12 April – 7 August 2019 at Westfield, Ariel Way, White City, W12 7GF. Nearest station: White City. From 8 August 2019 – late 2020 at TT Liquor, 17B Kingsland Road, Hoxton, E2 8AA. Nearest station: Hoxton or Old Street. Tickets: £85/£95/£110. Pre-booking requests: info@dinnertimestory.com or tel: 07510 204 003. Visit Banquet of Hoshena on Instagram.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Backyard Cinema’s Christmas Labyrinth review: A wonderfully festive movie experience

Backyard Cinema Christmas Labyrinth © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

Backyard Cinema has created a Christmas Labyrinth at Winterville at Clapham Common

This year sees Backyard Cinema launching their biggest film events to date. Setting up camp at festive experience Winterville is the Christmas Labyrinth. I’ve been going to Backyard Cinema events for several years and am always impressed by the various theme they come up with. It’s safe to say they’ve surpassed their previous themes with a fantastically Christmassy immersive experience on Clapham Common.

Backyard Cinema Christmas Labyrinth © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

Which door will you choose?

The Christmas Labyrinth is one of two Backyard Cinema’s festive screening experiences – the other being The Snowman Experience at Winter Wonderland. This year, Backyard Cinema has taken over a large section of Winterville, with their huge, cosy tent hosting two screening rooms, a huge labyrinth adventure, cinemas bars, as well as a lobby bar with live entertainment.

Upon arrival, you can stop for a drink at the bar or head straight in to start your journey. Our evening began in a magical room, with a mysterious voice urging us to choose one of four different doors. I’m used to taking a special route to get to Backyard Cinema’s screening room, but this year’s Labyrinth experience is clearly much bigger, with many choices for the visitor. Although you are encouraged to take a separate door from your friend, my pal and I decided to take the same one and headed into the ‘Jester’ door, being the pair of jokers are we (according to my friend!). Our journey through the maze was disorientating, confusing, but exciting as we figured out what way to go. Finally, we ended up in a twinkling forest – which made me feel like I was in Narnia – which opened to the screening room.

Backyard Cinema Christmas Labyrinth © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

We walked through a magical labyrinth to the screening room

While the previous Backyard beanbags have always been comfortable, there’s some higher, bulkier and even cosier ones for their new Winterville home. My friend and I claimed a good set of beanbags with a prime position and headed to the nearby bar for some festive drinks. There’s a selection of craft beer, soft drinks, wine, prosecco and winter warmers. I’m a sucker for hot booze at the time of year so a mulled cider and rum was an easy choice… one I made twice as it happens. As you would expect for a cinema, there’s the typical snacks, including Proper Corn popcorn and pic and mix sweets. The bar is open throughout the screening should you feel the need to refresh yourself.

On our visit last week, we were watching the musical film The Greatest Showman starring Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron. We had never seen it before and I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed it a lot more than I expected. Throughout the film, I was really comfortable all settled in the beanbag, although I did use one of the BC provided blankets towards the last half hour to warm me up even further. Overall, it was a entertaining evening and the labyrinth was a creative and fun way to enter the cinema. Tickets are already sold out for many dates in the run-up to Christmas so I recommend buying them ASAP.

  • Backyard Cinema’s Christmas Labyrinth runs until 22 December 2018. At Winterville (entrance just north of the Long Pond), Clapham Common, SW4 9BX. Nearest stations: Clapham Common or Clapham South. Tickets: Adults from £18.98, Children from £9.98. Stalls, premium and loungers available. For booking, visit the Backyard Cinema website.

  • Backyard Cinema Presents: The Snowman™ Experience at Winter Wonderland, Hyde Park, W2. Under 6 January 2019. Nearest stations: Hyde Park Corner or Marble Arch. Tickets (vary between standard, off-peak, and peak): Adults/teen £9.95-£14.95, Children £6.96-£12.95. For booking, visit the Winter Wonderland website. Read Metro Girl’s review of the Snowman Experience.

To find out what’s on in London in December, click here.

For a guide to London’s Christmas markets and fairs, click here.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

The Wild Wild West comes to West London at the Moonshine Saloon

Moonshine Saloon © Matt Martin photography

Moonshine Saloon is an immersive new pop-up bar coming to the King’s Road
© Matt Martin photography

Launching just in time for summer is an exciting new drinking concept. Moonshine Saloon will bring an immersive Wild West experience to the streets of West London. The pop-up BYOB bar comes from the same team behind the hugely popular Alcotraz. Launching on 31 May, Moonshine Saloon are pitching their waggons on the King’s Road for a limited three-month run.

Moonshine Saloon © Matt Martin photography

Guests will be invited to dress like a cowboy
© Matt Martin photography

The pop-up will let wannabe cowboys step into the Wild West’s undercover world of moonshine. Arriving at the entrance with their own booze in hand, apprentice moonshiners will head down a street that looks straight out of the dusty old west. They’ll stop with a tailor to get measured up for cowboy gear and Stetson hats so they blend in and don’t attract the Sheriff’s attention.

Once, they are suited and Stetson-ed up, guests will be given exclusive access into the shadiest spirit making business as they are welcomed in by the King of the Moonshiners. Heading downstairs to the Saloon itself, apprentice Moonshiners can try their hand at card and dice games, share their wildest stories of life in the West and enjoy their personalised moonshine cocktails. The Saloon’s talented moonshine pros – aka the mixologists – will be creating your own special cocktail with your choice of liquor. Those who successfully manage to evade the long arm of the law, can also stop for a refreshment in the General Store before heading back to their ranch.

Founder Sam Shearman explained: “With Alcotraz we created London’s first immersive cocktail bar, which placed guests at the centre of the action and allowed for theatre to take place around them whilst delicious cocktails were enjoyed. Moonshine Saloon will take this to a completely new scale, creating a new world as opposed to simply a new bar!”

  • Moonshine Saloon is open from 31 May 2018 – 5 January 2019. At 535 Kings Road, Fulham, SW10 0SZ. Nearest station: Fulham Broadway. Open Wed-Fri 6.15pm-10.15pm, Sat 12.15pm-11pm. Booking fee: £33.99 (includes 4 cocktails from brought drink of choice and 1hr 45m inside the saloon). Bookings can be made on the Moonshine Saloon website or DesignMyNight.

To find out what’s on in London in December, click here.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Somnai review: A surreal night in an immersive and virtual reality experience

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

Somnai is an immersive virtual reality experience

Anyone who read my blog often or follows my Instagram account has probably worked out I’m a fan of immersive theatre and experiences. The word has become somewhat of a buzzword in the events industry in recent years and I’ve had a range of brilliant to mediocre ‘immersive’ experiences. However, the recent resurgence in popularity of virtual reality (VR) technology, means this type of production can utilise another platform to expand their scope. Recently, a group of friends and I went along to Somnai, which has been described by its makers dotdotdot (dot dot London) as a ‘live, multi-sensory experience with immersive technologies’.

Somnai © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

Each ‘patient’ is given an ID bracelet

Checking out the website ahead of its March launch, there were little clues on what a Somnai session would be like. The event is marketed as a type of sleep clinic, with the chilling warning ‘may cause acute death’. Now, of course, this warning cannot be taken literally, but speaking in past tense, it certainly gets your heart racing at points. Somnai is located in a large, unassuming warehouse in Clerkenwell. You are advised to avoid alcohol beforehand so my five sober friends and I arrived in the clinical white reception, slightly apprehensive about what lay ahead. We were ‘checked in’ to the clinic, as we handed in our bags and coats and were given a Fitbit, a dressing gown and padded sleep socks. One by one, we were taken into a small room, where silent assistants scanned our faces with 3D mapping, which all felt rather Black Mirror.

We started our experience in our group of six, meeting our sleep guide, an ethereal and spiritual woman who eased us into the experience with a few probing questions about our dreams (e.g. if you could fly anywhere, where would you go? What motivates you?). We start by winding down and relaxing with a bedtime story as we lie on a giant teddy bear, before zooming through the galaxy under a planetarium-style sky.

The main phase of Somnai is putting on our ‘sleep masks’ – our virtual reality masks – and beginning our VR journey. I haven’t tried virtual reality since its infancy in the 1990s and it’s certainly come on since then (and I would hope so too!). We moved through various surreal landscapes, from underwater kingdoms to grand canyons. Despite a part of my brain not knowing this was real, I found it quite unsettling to step off the side of a cliff or ledge, which was the process to changing ‘worlds’ or ‘zones’. In addition to what we were seeing, we could use our senses by touching, such as feeling the wooden plank ‘drawbridge’ we were crossing under my feet, or stroking the furry plant life in the ocean world. The whole VR experience was amazing and disorienting at the same time. Discussing it afterwards, I realised I had been quite fearful during it and had perhaps become too immersed in these bizarre environments we thought we were in.

Somnai © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

Ready to sleep? The experience has been styled as a visit to a sleep clinic

Following the VR walkabout, our group was separated and two of us ended up in a very strange and spooky set of rooms. Without giving too much away, we were given a choice, ultimately made the wrong one, and ended our Somnai journey with a particularly scary 2nd session with the VR cameras. For this, our friends and I were reunited in a white hospital ward with masked attendants guiding us to lie in bed and putting on our ‘sleep masks’. I felt like we were in an asylum in a horror film. For the two of us who made the wrong choice, what we saw in the VR was rather unsettling and sent our heart rates up.

Finally, we all ended up in the digital bar, which is constantly evolving with different phases, each with a matching cocktail menu. If you download their app, your cocktail should do strange things when you scan it. With the app, we were able to check our heart rate throughout the process and see a quite horrifying (in my case!) 3D scan of my head. Overall, it was interestingly weird and enjoyable. The plot wasn’t quite coherent, but the mix of senses, VR sights and the cast provided a new and thought-provoking experience. Our group had much to discuss in the cocktail bar afterwards as we discussed our different experiences and interpreted meaning from the various surreal levels. If you’re intrigued about virtual reality, I recommend checking it out while it’s still on.

  • Somnai, 2 Pear Tree Street, Clerkenwell, EC1V 3SB. Nearest stations: Farringdon or Old Street. Tickets: From £35 (discount for groups of six). On now until 3 August 2018. For booking, visit the Somnai website.

For a review of Dotdotdot’s 2019/2020 production of Jeff Wayne’s The War Of The Worlds, click here.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Harmonics in Space by Fred Butler: Lift your spirits at this multi-layered, sensory experience